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Something to Muench on: Sudden Cardiac Arrest…Are We Ready?

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Kimberly Muench

It won’t be long before passing period bells ring, football and band practices resume, and the structure of the school year begins again.  In many ways we’ll be ready, right?  There are certainly a lot of parents who are excited to get their kids back into a predictable schedule, teachers who are waiting to welcome students into the learning environment, and community members chomping at the bit to gather in the stands and cheer on the local sports teams with music and dance accompaniment as the Friday Night Lights season commences.

With all of the comings, goings and fanfare that arrives with everyday life in school and on the athletic fields, I wonder if our school staff are prepared in the event a student or coworker has a cardiac emergency?

According to the American Heart Association, the incidence of EMS-assessed out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is 326,000 with an average survival rate of 10.6% (American Heart Association Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2015 Update).  Approximately 20% of a community is in its schools on any given day, including students, teachers, staff and family members.

Project ADAM, administered through Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, is a program that trains parents, school and athletic staff who may need to use an AED (Automatic External Defibrillator) should a child or an adult go into sudden cardiac arrest.

Project ADAM was created by Patty and Joe Lemel after they lost their son Adam, a Wisconsin high school student, to sudden cardiac arrest during a basketball game in 1999.  The AED and someone trained in its use could have saved their son’s life.

Furthermore, the ADAM Act was signed into law in July of 2001 by President George W. Bush and, in part, was the impetus for the placement of an AED in every public and charter school in the state of Texas.

Adam Lemel, like many others who experience sudden cardiac arrest, didn’t have any previous sign of heart trouble or show any indication of a heart issue before he collapsed on the court.  Adam’s passing was one in a series of deaths among high school athletes in southeastern Wisconsin and the conduit the Lemels have used to create change on a national level.

Because Texas mandated AEDs be placed in every school in the state you would think it would follow with staff training and practice drills.  But that just isn’t the case according to Cook Children’s Medical Center Project ADAM Texas Program Coordinator Sarah Theiroff.

Currently, there are 324 Heart Safe Schools and 11 Heart Safe School Districts across the state of Texas.  To see if your child’s school/district is Heart Safe, visit www.projectadamtexas.org.

Whether your child has a known heart condition or not, the thought of having life-saving equipment and no one knowing how to use it properly is definitely a concern.

To be clear, Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) occurs when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating, cutting off blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. SCA is fatal if not treated immediately. Having access to an AED can save the life of someone suffering a SCA during those critical first few minutes.

Early warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest risk may include: fainting or dizziness during or right after exercise, excessive fatigue or shortness of breath with exercise, and chest pain or discomfort with exercise.

Risk factors for SCA include:

  • Athletic activity: Two-thirds of the deaths occur during exercise or activity, making SCA the leading cause of death in young athletes.
  • Congenital heart disease or structural heart abnormalities.
  • Known abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Obesity and hypertension.
  • Exposure to drugs, medications, toxins and infectious agents, including cocaine, inhalants, recreational or club drugs, and some prescription medications.
  • Sudden blow to the chest directly over the heart.
  • Family history of heart problems, fainting spells, and/or sudden death before 50 years of age.

It is possible to have SCA even if there are no known risk factors and no early warning signs.

Sarah shares, “Project ADAM is a vital program that has saved countless lives across Texas and the country. We urge parents not to wait until a child suffers from sudden cardiac arrest to act. You can take steps now to make sure your child’s school has CPR-trained staff, at least one AED and a proper cardiac emergency response plan, including a designated cardiac emergency response team. We encourage schools to make sure all employees know how to use an AED. “

For more information, please contact your local Project ADAM Texas program at (682) 885-6755 or ProjectAdamTexas@cookchildrens.org.

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About The Author

Kim Muench is a Flower Mound mother of five kiddos between the ages of ten and thirty. She is a certified parent coach who loves working with moms and dads of adolescents to build stronger, healthier connections in their home. To learn more, visit her website at www.realifeparentguide.com.

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